Gough v. Saint Peter's Episcopal Church
It is axiomatic that causes of action sounding in negligence or breach of a fiduciary duty require the existence of a duty owed by one party to another; and, the first inquiry in the two-pronged test for the existence of a legal duty requires determining whether an ordinary person in the defendants' positions, knowing what the defendants knew or should have known, would anticipate that harm of the general nature of that suffered was likely to result. Robert Gough filed a complaint against Saint Peter's Episcopal Church of South Windsor, Connecticut and the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut asserting claims of negligence and breach of fiduciary duty and alleging that the plaintiff, who served as an acolyte beginning at age 12 in 1976, was sexually abused in 1977 by Bruce Jacques, a priest employed by the defendants. The trial court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed challenging the ruling. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The crux of the appeal was whether the defendants owed a duty to the plaintiff. The dispositive question was whether the specific harm alleged was foreseeable to the defendants. The plaintiff argued that the foreseeability of the harm to the plaintiff was evidenced by the church's policies with regard to the welfare of its members. However, without evidence indicating that it was reasonably foreseeable that Jacques would cause the type of harm that the policies sought to prevent, the plaintiff's argument that the church's policies created a duty owed to him by the defendants failed. The plaintiff did not submit evidence to controvert the defendants' uncontested evidence that no one who knew Jacques saw, heard or observed anything that alerted them that Jacques would harm anyone in any manner. The plaintiff averred that he did not think anyone at St. Peter's was aware of the incident he alleged and he did not disclose the incident until decades later. Without any specific facts that reasonably could give rise to an inference that the sexual abuse of the plaintiff was the foreseeable result of any act or omission by the defendants, the plaintiff's allegation that the defendants knew or should have known that Jacques had or would harm the plaintiff was unsupported. Thus, it could not survive a motion for summary judgment.